Former Cisco exec Mike Volpi says he's curious about media convergence and that he won't end up competing with Cisco

Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief

February 9, 2007

5 Min Read
Volpi Sizes Up Life After Cisco

Mike Volpi, formerly a senior VP at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), left his post yesterday after about 13 years on the job. So what's next? He says he's not trying to build suspense for his next move. (See Volpi Out at Cisco.)

"I really don't have a specific plan at all," he says. "I'll take the next few months and figure it out."

In a brief interview with Light Reading Thursday, Volpi said he's interested in how television and video entertainment is going to evolve with the Internet as a key distributor. He also lists a few reasons why it's unlikely we'll see him turn up at router rival Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). He says that his career ambition was never to gun for Cisco CEO John Chambers' job.

No Jumping to Juniper
After years at Cisco, Volpi says he's not looking to square off against his former employer. "The work at Cisco has been pretty consuming for me… It's been a wonderful ride for me at Cisco, and I feel like the company's in a really good spot compared to where we were a few years ago."

Volpi, who led Cisco's routing and service provider technology group, appears to have left that part of the Good Ship Cisco in tidy shape, if Cisco's most recent quarter is any indicator. The company has recently seen marked growth in core routing, but Volpi hints that he's not planning to parlay that into a fat paycheck at a Cisco rival.

"I wouldn't really want to compete with Cisco, because I've spent so much of my life building what's here. So I won't do that, but there are a lot of interesting adjacent markets to play in.

"There are a lot of companies in the periphery that don't compete with what Cisco does. Carriers don't compete with Cisco. And there are a lot of media and Internet companies that require the knowledge and capability of networking that aren't really competitive to Cisco."

More on that later.

Volpi says his timing was his own; he adds that Cisco CEO John Chambers has been "nothing but supportive." Volpi says now's a good time for him to step away because Cisco service provider business is "clicking on all cylinders" and, competitively, he says the company "has really turned the tide against Juniper."

On a more personal note, Volpi just turned 40 and says he saw that as a sort of mile marker in his life -- and as good a place as any to start the next phase of his career. (By the way, if you're looking for a nifty recap of Volpi's Cisco days, see Volpi's Greatest Hits.)

Clearing the Heir
Volpi was often labeled as one of the executives who would eventually succeed CEO John Chambers. But Volpi says a big CEO job is not exactly on his to do list.

"Being a chief executive, particularly at a big, public company in this day and age, is not a shoo-in, at least for me.

"The situation here, with John's tenure and how long he's going to be there… isn't something I aspire to right now," Volpi says, referring to filling John Chambers' chair at Cisco.

Volpi says any CEO at any huge, public company, has to balance hectic travel and work life, all of which can siphon time away from a young family. But he won't rule out being CEO of a smaller firm that offers a chance to grow, but has less of a "public life/stress thing."

Of course, any exec managing billions in revenue at Cisco has already had a taste of what it's like to run a big company. "The thing I've enjoyed the most is managing and running the service provider organization. It really is a complicated industry and it really requires you to think through things strategically."

Still, Volpi hints he may not even stay tied to telecom at all: "I haven't thought of myself as purely a telecommunications professional but more of a technology professional."

Media, Convergence, and Mike?
"I think what I could hopefully do is take some of the knowledge that I have and apply it to more of the Internet media and convergence that's happening out there in the marketplace," Volpi says. "That seems to me a segment that still has a long, long road ahead of it."

He notes that there are many different approaches to changing how TV is delivered and consumed today -- and that divergence of opinions, companies, and technologies usually points to a great opportunity. "The area that I find most exciting is transforming video and what we know today as television entertainment.

"I like a lot of the over-the-top stuff that's happening in the market. You see the advent of companies like YouTube and MySpace, and they clearly take advantage of some of the work we do at Cisco, but in a very different area."

When considering how the Internet delivers video on a large scale today, Volpi says there are hardware problems, software problems, and business model problems all over. "Somewhere in there I think there's an opportunity."

The Volpi Poll
So did Mike Volpi jump or was he pushed? And what did steriods have to do with it?

Light Reading's poll on Volpi's career move indicates that our readers believe Volpi wasn't fired. The poll-takers also say he'll most likely work at a startup; about half of the more than 500 respondents say he was right for the job as Cisco's CEO. What do you think? The poll -- Volpi Verdict -- will remain open until Tuesday, Feb. 13.

— Phil Harvey, Managing Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Phil Harvey

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Phil Harvey has been a Light Reading writer and editor for more than 18 years combined. He began his second tour as the site's chief editor in April 2020.

His interest in speed and scale means he often covers optical networking and the foundational technologies powering the modern Internet.

Harvey covered networking, Internet infrastructure and dot-com mania in the late 90s for Silicon Valley magazines like UPSIDE and Red Herring before joining Light Reading (for the first time) in late 2000.

After moving to the Republic of Texas, Harvey spent eight years as a contributing tech writer for D CEO magazine, producing columns about tech advances in everything from supercomputing to cellphone recycling.

Harvey is an avid photographer and camera collector – if you accept that compulsive shopping and "collecting" are the same.

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